I'll tell you now how heartless the world had become: I put powdered cat litter in his dope and sat and watched in delight as he chased his first toot, almost choked and said: There's something fuckin' weird in this!
Mine looks fine, I Said, And a nice big bag to boot.
Big??? You fucking kiddin' me?
I scooped out a fix worth of smack and poured it in my spoon. Sitting up, atop the duvet on the double bed, he measured out another dose too. I heard his hit the foil, the crinkle as he manoeuvred it into place, his lighter lighting, then a kind of sputtering cough as he inhaled the smoke and struggled to keep it down. I didn't look at him. Just listened.
Nah, there's fucking brick dust or summin' in this... It dont run jus' burns up black! There's B in it ... there's definitely B, but there's some other shit too.
I heard him ripping off a fresh piece of tin foil and emptying the content of his bag onto it. He had a pen or something and was pushing the smack around, sorting through it, segregating the small harder rocks and saying all the while : Not evn the same fuckin'colour... not fuckin' gear! Then he screamed like someone who would be violent if the right weakling were sat in front of him: It's a third of the fucking bag... Wot the FuuuucK !!! Finishing by letting out a coarse, barbarous sound of rage, back-heeling the wooden base of the bed and screaming “fuuuuck!!!” once again.
I ignored him. I was sat cross-legged on the floor. I cooked my dope and carefully placed the spoon down on a book in front of me. My first two injections would be on that Cunt. Kinda. Kinda as two nights previous my morning bag had mysteriously disappeared and even more mysteriously reappeared, three hours later, with barely anything in it. After having turned the room inside out multiple times it was finally the Cunt who found it: sat there on the table under our gaze all the while.
Found it!!! He cried. Panic over!
Right there, on the fucking table, he pointed, his mouth hung open in mock disbelief. How the fuck did we miss that?
I stared at him with a hatred in me that I could not and did not want to veil – his cool, insincere friendly face, the flushed guilty demeanour manifest in his eyes and mouth and oozing out of every filthy pore in his deceitful fucking head. It was the look which had outed every thieving junkie since the dawn of time. It was more than circumstantial evidence; it was the embodiment of guilt itself. And it wasn't even with the honesty of primal greed. This wasn't tearing a strip of meat off the carcass first. It was a manufactured selfishness, a Frankenstein behaviour, something that doesn't exist in the wild.
Neither of us had 'missed' the bag. The Cunt surely couldn't be stupid enough to have forgotten we'd already cleared and upended the table thrice (me first and then him and then me again). It was all but impossible the bag had remained there, defying gravity and the scrutiny of four keen junkie eyes. No. Stupidity had nothing to do with it. The Cunt's motivation for returning my heroin was borne from the exact same impetus that had had him steal it in the first place. He'd already tried giving me the slip once that evening, halfway down the stairs and almost out the door when I shouted: "Er, Sean.... have you seen my bag that was on the table?"
The Cunt must have froze in terror, knowing that if only I'd realized seconds later he'd have been out the door and away. Instead he traipsed back up, looking way too innocent for anyone with a foothold in this junk life, and said: "Well, if it was really there then it can't be far... it'll turn up. It can only be in the room! Let me know tomorrow where you find it.
What dyou mean IF it was really there? You fucking know it was!
Um, was, he said, smiling. You sure you din't do it? You was pretty well gone for a while!?
Fuck off! I snarled incredulously. And in that moment I knew, without a degree of doubt, that my bag of heroin was sitting in one of his pockets or inside his sock. I also knew that if I allowed him the opportunity to worm his way out of mine that evening then my gear and morning well-being would be leaving with him.
Used accidently!!! I repeated. When was the last time you or any other fucking addict 'accidentally' used their morning bag? Acci-fuckin-dently!!! No, it’s not been used. It’s fucking here somewhere, and if you're any kind of a friend you’ll not want me getting sick either so will help search for it until it’s found…. Even if it takes all fucking night! Bags are not gonna start fucking disappearing here!
I said that with just enough of a hint of violence about it that he understood the situation had the potential to get ugly. The problem now was that after having been so close to slipping out and away with my smack he'd then taken mental possession of it, had envisaged a morning free from the rigours of shoplifting and even now still held onto the hope that he could help search for the missing bag for a while before throwing his hands up in the air, flummoxed, and then leaving. But tonight he was trying it on with someone who knew the ropes a little too well, who knew every move light-fingered addicts like him were fixing to make. I knew it would take a while for him to mentally unclench from the idea that the bag was his, and so we both played for time and I knew I had more than him.
It took three hours, the both of us searching, the both of us aware we'd not find it as it was sitting in the bottom of one of his pockets. It was only when he was in need of a hit himself, after he had realized that searching till it was found was no joke, that he disappeared into the kitchen and then the bathroom searching out a workable solution. That solution was splitting the bag 70/30 in his favour then arriving straight out the toilet, without the slightest care for credibility, exclaiming: Found it!!! I settled for being partially robbed, content my ploy had been successful enough to keep me well until the following morning when the dealers phones would start switching on.
70/30... So, in a way, now, I wasn't getting anything free just getting something even: having today what I was robbed of yesterday.
Back to the cunt on the bed, moaning like his world is gonna totally collapse, miserably separating what he thinks is brick dust out his gear.
Look, he said, look at all this weird shit in the dope! You gonna shoot that?
He asked that in a strange way, like he wasn't really expecting me to say no, like he was beginning to question something else. I didn't reply just sucked my smack up out the spoon and flicked the air to the top of the syringe. I felt him looking at me. That was obvious. I concentrated on looking as guilty as hell.
Giv'us a sprinkle of yours, he asked, with a slight arrogance attached to his words. I wanna see if the same shit's in it.
Fuck off! I'm not wasting my gear burning it... you crazy or what?
You'll not fuckin' waste it! I'll give ya a trace of mine in return!
And what if mines not like yours? I'll have swapped good dope for bad and you'll still be left with yours anyway. How does the quality of my gear help you? All it can do is make you feel even worse.
You're not worried what you may be shooting, no?
Fuck knows what I shoot, I said, what anyone shoots. Even clean dope's cut dirty. I'm more scared of what I've already shot... The shit which cooked up but wasn't dope. If its brick like you say it won't cook down so on that score it's safer.
Well you seem pretty fuckin' cool about it s'all I'm sayin'. I know you, if you seriously thought there was summin in the gear, even a suspicion, you'd be all over it... studying it, shitting yaself of getting a dirty hit!
Then maybe that tells you something, I said. Mine cooked up clean, not a trace left in the spoon... actually looks like a pretty decent bit of kit. I could even smell it during the cook... and it's not often that happens.
The Cunt visibly smarted with anger. He cast a look down at his pathetic measure of heroin which would barely last him even if he quit. He looked like he was going to cry. I could see him going through his options, making the fated decision:
1) wrap the gear up now and pass a mildly uncomfortable night thinking of it until he could smoke the remainder in the morning.
2) smoke what's left immediately and at least get a nod and pass a sleepless night of mild withdrawal dreading having to go out grafting in the morning half sick.
Of course the logical decision, the one that would affect him the least was the former, having one evening of restriction so as the cycle of physical addiction was kept up. But junkies think short term, they take the immediate relief and deal with tomorrow only when it's there. The Cunt struck his lighter, gave one last cursory thought to what he shouldn't do and then did it anyway: his deplorable face chasing around what was already the last of his bag, secretly disgusted by my presence and driven crazy by the amount of heroin I still had left and which I had purposely left open to his full view. He blew the smoke out like it was the last of the air in his lungs.
Out the corner of my eye I saw the Cunt's neck and arms relax and his upper body collapse half a foot forward. I heard the foil touching down on the bed and crinkling up. For a moment he'd nodded out. I waited just until he was on the precipice of his nod, his body bent over in an impossible way, all his anguish and worries left in the world he had momentarily vacated, the smoking tube fall from his lips.
Can't be that BADLY CUT, I said, raising my voice to wake him, to cut short the only nod he was good for.
He came to with a start, looking angry, annoyed with me for waking him yet even more annoyed with himself for nodding off and losing any sympathy he'd built up about how useless his smack was and what a hellish evening and night he was in for.
Just tired, he said. This fucking life is beginning to exhaust me! I'm bored with it all. Everything! This shit fucking gear and these CUNTS ripping you off!
'These cunts' meant me. That's why he'd stressed it. But he knew it was pointless accusing me out right, same as I knew it would have been useless accusing him two days ago. The junkie rule of plea is you only ever admit a crime when caught absolutely bang-to-rights, and often not even then. Regardless of damning evidence, logic, probabilities, lack of any other possible culprit or alibi all must be denied with a passion: "I don't know how it happened... I know I was the only one here, but I it wasn't me... It wasn't fucking me!"
For the first time since robbing him I now looked him square in the eye. I gave him my smug face to hate, I needed him to hate me, to see himself in me and despise what he saw.
Tired? Ha! You was having a right good nod more like it, I said, trying to further wind him up.
It's not the quality of the heroin that's the problem... it's the fuckin' quantity!!! All that other shit crushed into it!
Maybe it was his last bag or something and he was trying to stretch it out? I suggested knowing it was implausible.
Yeah, right! Said the Cunt. And it was just my bad luck to get THAT bag?
Well one of us had to get it. 50/50 isn't bad luck, its equal chance. 1 in 50 would be bad luck.
Hmm... Even fucking chance!He said. When a junkie comes straight in from scoring holding his stomach, desperate to shit, and bolts himself in the toilet with the bags, it's not fifty-fucking-fifty... Its odds-on!
I did need the fucking toilet, I said, what you trying to say?
It's cat litter, he said.
What's cat litter? What are you talking about?
In my gear, it's not brick dust it's cat litter. He wasn't angry. He said it in a fatigued, doleful way as if he was always on the shit end of everything, like I had done this many times before and had now completely and finally broken his spirit.
There's cat litter in my gear, he repeated, quietly and then he lay down, looking at the wall and silently crying, pretending his tears were derived from healthy emotions and not the abandoned and hideous self-pity which he knew they were of.
I pretended I hadn't noticed his sadness and sticking the knife in further I said, Oh well, if you're gonna have a lie down I may as well take an extra shot and join you. At that point he sat himself up and looked over at me, at my heroin as I scooped another fix out. He watched for a moment and then flopped back down, supine, staring off at the ceiling.
As I prepared my second injection I could sense the Cunt eyeing me. The room was heavy with his being, his conniving thought processes, his anger and self-pitying sadness. He was battling with himself, I could tell, wanting to keep his self-respect, hating me, hating heroin, blaming just about everyone but himself as to why he was laying their so morally weak and on the point of degrading himself even further. To him this was about power, his weakness as an adult male under my dominance, my superior strength and success: having heroin when he had none. It was a disadvantage you can't help hating the other fellow for. The Cunt didn't last out long. He swallowed his pride, prepared some murderous plans in case I refused him, then looked my way once more.
D'ya think you could spare me a trace until tomorrow? He asked, as if to no-one, as if it wasn't even a question.
I ignored him though we both knew the words had been said. He waited a while, squirming, impatient, until the reverberation of his words had stopped sounding and all that was left was an uncomfortable silence, playing more on me than on him.
So whadj'ya say? He asked. Have ya?
I shouldn't have but I felt sorry for him. His words, and the emotions which fuelled them, seemed so genuine. They reminded me of a humanity I had once known, a suffering I couldn't fail to respond to. And I would have responded if it would have come from any other heart but a junk filled one. In the Cunt's request was a self-centredness and a weeping self-pity that sickened me, that made me despise him more for even asking. Come on, don't ask me that, I implored, it's not fair and you know it! I've just another four fixes here myself and am lucky I even have that as my bag was so BIG.
The cunt didn't reply in words but I felt him flush pale at my words before his heart found itself again and began furiously thumping litres of blood through his body until his head throbbed in shame and humiliation and murderous hatred. I was almost out-of-breath just sensing his deflated disappointment. Now on his face was a spiteful dejected look, the Cunt driven half crazy by the number four as it echoed around in his head: four to the power of ZERO; how much better four was to nothing; how four was a lot; how four wasn't fair; how four was just crushingly sad and overpowering; how four was what his existence had come to; how four was my advantage over him; how four and why and therefore.... and then he was on the bed, looking at the wall, trembling and blubbering and wailing like a small child, like he'd had his life and dreams and heart smashed to pieces. He boohooed on about life and what hell it had been and how he didn't want to live and never had. He cursed out every one from dealers to junkies to his own mother. He cursed his cousin for first introducing him heroin and bawled out something about his social security money not having been paid. It all came out in an almost incomprehensible tirade of tears and bubbles and snot and dribble. And when he was finished the only clear thing was that he was the victim, that he'd ALWAYS been the victim and it just wasn't fair!
I took immense joy listening to the cunts performance, and delighted further knowing that once he'd had a fix and straightened up that he would never feel comfortable in my company again, that he' would always know that his reckless junkie demeanour had cracked wide open in front of me and revealed a sobbing and pathetic man of 35 who had become so ruthless in life that he was totally alone and despised by the one person who would still sit in the same room as him. He was a ruined and spent force who would naturally evade my company once this was over, go off alone again until he found a new junk buddy he could recreate his myth to. I think in that moment, from the pleasure I took in his distress, that I’d never despised anyone quite as much. I wrapped my gear up, put it in the tight little pocket of my jeans and stuffed tissue in on top to protect against crafty fingers while I nodded.
When I next came around it was to the crinkling of foil and a lighter flicking anew. I looked across at the Cunt briefly thinking he'd somehow got my gear out my pocket. Sitting on the side of the bed he was now trying to smoke the cat litter, saying “there's maybe some gear in it after all”. Of course there wasn't and the powdered grain either just smoked or did nothing at all. When he realized he was just as sober as he was before he started he gave up and tossed the foil and its contents down on the floor. He looked over at me. I stared him square in the eye and let the faintest of smiles break out across my lips. He saw it and nodded in acknowledgement.
Well basically that's me fuck'd, innit? He asked.
Like I was the yesterday morning, I replied
Oh, so that's what this is all about.... Revenge?
Revenge? For what?
You fucking tell me, he said, I've never stole from you or done bad by you.... EVER. Whether you believe me or not that's the truth... I never did anything!
I didn't believe him. HE didn't believe HIM!. He was still trying to save himself only now in another way. And he would save himself.... just. He had but another two hours to wait first, another two hours of punishment, sentenced to his own company, to himself and who he had become and was.
I watched him through the evening, his distress at being fully conscious and having to deal with his own thoughts. He sat there in a kind of sulk, constantly shaking his legs so as his tormented existence didn't go unnoticed for a second. It was well after 10pm when I finally put him out his misery.
Sean.. give me your foil, I said.
At that he was up and alive, all the misery and contempt leaving him in an instant. I put enough smack on his foil to give him a smoke through the night and a good boot to get him up and out in the morning. He thanked me mercilessly and said he'd never forget it. He said that apart from himself I was the only other junkie who still had a heart. Not affording himself time to become any more emotional he heated and chased the heroin down the foil and sucked up the smoke. The night had come down and he'd survived. For a moment there was a peaceful silence, the silence of junk fiends having blocked out the world. The TV was on and the voices it emitted seemed homely and cosy and warm. In our downed mood we both watched the box, our eyelids getting heavy and sometimes closing over completely. I was glad I had gotten the Cunt well and I was even kinda glad he was there, if only as a presence in the room.
You know, it wasn't me who stole your gear, he said after a while. Honestly, it wasn't me.
I heard his words, nodded, but didn't reply.
You don't believe me do you? He asked. I'd never leave another addict sick, know too well what its like myself. I'd never put someone else through that! Fuck knows what happened to your bag the other night but I swear to you, on my life, it wasn't me!
And for the last time that night I heard his words and didn't reply again.
_ _ _ _
Thanks as ever for reading, Shane. X
Don't forget ---> BOOK LAUNCH: Reading and performance
A new Memoires post to follow very-fucking-soon (and if you hold out much hope for that, well, you've obviously just joined this bleeding band of the Very Nearly Departed...) X
Sometimes on the autumn blows, when it comes through like this, when the evening air has just a faint idea of chill about it and the first musty tangs whip up in the first of the fallen leaves, I remember a life entire and it makes me sad and ecstatic in turns. And on the autumn blows, when the colour of your greatest bruises are back in season, when the scars from old love re-open and weep, when childish tinklebells of happiness ring through from the lost of time, I am compelled to write because this is the parallel universe of which I inhabit and in which I see the flawed and tragic beauty of this world. It is on the autumn blows that I cry for life and all the pleasures and pain therein, thereof and theregone. It is on the autumn blows that death terrifies and offends me and remains something to avoid at all costs.
I dreamt of her again last night... And of her pharmacies. The neon green cross flickering on its last legs, a dying beacon of sickly light for the junkie to wash-up in before smashing into the rocks further on. Askew road. Opposite the public library. The chime of the bell as I enter. Standing there in that pharmaceutical smell of pomade, baby powder and surgical stockings; the evening dark and suspicious outside; the last of the days addicts blustering in with their sniffles, bad lungs and lack of time. And it ends the same: watching myself recede down Hadyn Park Road with my works, the street lights on but the sky not yet quite night above, my form becoming smaller and darker until finally I'm no longer there at all. That was London and that was the autumn there and it only exists in dreamscape now. On waking I am slow to emerge. I don't move. Just lie there. A profound longing weighing me to the bed; the dream fresh in me for some moments yet. I am weeping but it's not sadness. It's a base emotion not contrived at all. I rise and I dress and the day is fresh to the cold outside. October is in me then.
I spent the better part of the morning sat alone outside the L'étoile brasserie watching the carousel turn in the square. The sky was dull full of clouds above, stretching off into the forever. Out across was the river, running parallel to me, huge sycamore trees potted along its course, leaves faded for the change in season, balding and baring through. I topped my coffee up with my morning dose of methadone and stirred it in good. The bartender saw me, made out he hadn't, wiped his cloth across a couple of tables and then came and placed a round glass ashtray down in front of me. I thanked him a Merci and asked that he bring me another cafe au lait. He gave a nod, looking at me intently, determining if I was sober enough to stay, and if so, would I likely be topping up every coffee with controlled substances. I guess he ruled in my favour. Standing a way off to my left he took a long searing drag from his cigarette, inhaled, then blew the smoke out as he peered a painful look over towards the river and at something out there which only he could see. He seemed to ponder profoundly on life for a moment. Then he smirked and gently nodded, a sad despondency in him then, like he'd figured out that it was useless and nothing could be done about it anyway. I looked over to where he'd been focusing, at the same blankness. It was another day in our lives and the city rolled on, and in a thousand years time it'll still be the same and out there I spied the insignificance of our lives when faced with the infinite spectre of history.
The methadone was coming on. I could feel it in the pit of my stomach, a warm hollowness stirring around, a sudden compulsion to be involved in life. I sat preoccupied by the carousel, lit up and turning around through the drabness of the morning, the wurlitzer music sounding so out of sorts with the yield of the day and yet so perfect in the discordant and contradictory spirit of the time. On the face of it the music was upbeat and carnival but drifting out in low tones, unfurling and seeping up through its heart was a timeless melancholy, some tragedy stewing away below. I watched the few people turning around the ride, the smiling faces, the waving and laughter as they passed their loved ones on the periphery, completely oblivious to the tragic spectacle they were making up a part of. And then it hit me, what that tragic spectacle was: it was what carouselled around the carousel: the timeless melancholy was life.
Morning the colour of cloud. A moistness in the air like very fine drizzle, but no rain to be had. I finished my second coffee and felt lonely but strangely suited for it. I imagined all the beautiful people I'd sat opposite to in cafés over the years, of the time I stole Mary's cup as I wanted a memento of where her lips had been. That was autumn too. In the hotel that night, as we lay kissing on the bed, her suddenly shoving her hand into my pocket to feel out my cock.
“What's that she cried?” Her face ruffled in surprise, looking ugly for the first time. I knew what it was and tried to squirm free. I gripped her wrist so as she couldn't remove her hand.
“It's nothing,” I said, looking ugly for the first time too. “Just a spoon!”
“A spoon??? What?”
She was laughing without laughter, her face frozen on the brink of it... Or on the brink of crying. I was angry, trying to mask it; trying to think. How dare someone go for for my cock, especially in my left pocket! I held her wrist tight and stared without blinking into her eyes. She looked deceived for the first time. Then she looked sad, but that had happened before. Sensing she was never going to get the spoon out my pocket she let go. I pulled her hand out and began licking and kissing her fingers, passionately, removing all trace of the black carbon from them before she saw, before this turned into a real tragedy. As I kissed the last black soot off her fingers I said: “It's your spoon... from the cafe. I stole it. I wanted to save the moment. I stole your cup too. Go look It's in my bag! I collect mementos... I never wanted the day to end.”
Hope returned in her for the first time. That quick all consuming hope that only lovers of addicts, gamblers and the consistently unfaithful are ready to buy into. For a moment a nightmare had nearly shattered all her new dreams, like had happened to her/to me/to the entire world before. But that autumn night would not be the one where her world would collapse. It would be another full month later before she would learn I was an addict and didn't really have gastro-digestive problems; that I was in the toilet so often and for so long as my needles and vit C and heroin were wrapped in a succession of plastic bags and stashed in the cistern.
I laughed now. It seemed sweet. I would live that again if I could, if it meant we could all be young and hopeful again. I looked out over past the carousel, past the river, over to the Fourviere Hill making up the backdrop of the city, the Basilica sat atop it, the huge gilded Virgin Mary looking out over us, breaking through the faint mist at just-past-eleven, protecting the city from pestilence. But the pestilence is here, thriving, only it looks nothing like the plague. It's hard to believe I'm here, making up the history of this foreign town, walking a part of my legend around streets so alien to where I'm from. It's hard to believe it's 2013 and we've mostly all made it this far and the world hasn't really changed at all.
It was time to go. The morning had warned up and lost its bite and other phantoms of life now blew in over from the river and called me off to some place else. I left a note and more change on the table for the two coffees. As I passed the door of the Brasserie I signalled to the bartender that the money was on the table. Taking no chances he rushed out to check before I was gone, out of sight. Taking advantage of not having rung the order through the till the bartender picked the note out the litter and saucered the change into his pocket. When I next looked back he was gone. He had cleared the table and it was hard to believe I had been there at all.
It's true, sometimes when the sun breaks through, when great sheets of architectural yellow light escape between parting clouds, when the river gently laps on the turning tide, when a swan drifts by, we can disconnect from the dirt of living, from the epoch, from the constant fear of death, and for just a moment be equals in that wonder and awe; be equals in that fleeting understanding of mortality.
So once again the greatest season of all is breaking out across Europe. The light summerwear has been chucked back to the moths, the blithe fragrances replaced by scents much heavier and darker and obsessive. It's the time for taking sanctuary in someone, rip undressing as you clatter through the door, the desperate and breathless fuck in the low of the corridor, sperm shot up the inside of a thigh, across coutured lace and woven trims, tears of joy and horror at the realisation of how far you could lose yourself in someone, entire days spent in bed, holding and healing and catching up on a lifetime of good sleep as the wind and skies growl wild outside.
And on and on the autumn blows and winter will be here real soon, and fuck me if I'm not still enamoured with this ghastly fucking world.
For those interested in the writings here, and with the means, please order a copy of Russ Coffey's book. For all close friends and longtime followers of my work I would like to share my copy with You and so those interested in wanting to form a reading-chain please contact me via email (though be careful to note after reading it'll be your responsibility to post the book onto the next reader.)
Until very soon....
A new Memoires post will follow very shortly... X
It fails me now the quarter in which we were staying, Pedro and I, but we headed out from there. We passed the prostitutes under the flyover, cut through the throbbing perversity of the traffic, then slopped through the fish market. Into the ghetto Espagnolé, mothers scrubbing kids in tin baths in the street, toothless grandmas shelling peas on doorsteps, insults and curses and fights ricocheting from windows up and around: a poem of southern Italy. Past the concrete football pitch. Weeds growing up from the cracks. Bin bags and trash piled twelve foot high around the far perimeter. Refuge strikes. Rats strolling about freely. Cock-roaches the size of almonds. Out from the tall shaded third world into the sun baked thirder first world. Illegal Nigerians and Malians. Odd shoes, socks, rags, DVDs, video cassettes, saucepans, books, electrical gadgets, fabrics, blankets, broken toys, board games, cutlery... All splattered out along the pavement. Screaming pushing grabbing haggling fighting. The dribbling arsehole of the common market. Up Head, the bag snatchers on Vespers. Weaving in and out the traffic. Up on the pavement, whizzing by, arms reaching out, whether they're making a snatch or not. Piazza Garibaldi. The junkies of the central station. Those who've copped marching off like snivelling storm-troopers. A junkie girl. Bare bruised legs and flip flop feet, holding onto her man. Laughing. Life is sweet and it's just about to get sweeter. A poem of love in the South. Vacant stares on wastrel faces. A memory of the future. Down now, into the city proper. Syringes in the dustbins, packets of prescription drugs in the gutter, stains of human life in the doorways. The new wave punks sold on anarchy and printed slogans. Graffiti. Torn flapping posters. Leaflets. Flyers. A call to arms. Whistles and screams ringing out from manifestations. Police motorbikes parked outside cafés. Traffic cops staring out at the noise and heat and bustle over small espressos. Onto the main street. The sickening and universal smell of commerce turns out from revolving doors. Leather, perfume, polished floors, brass adornments, tailored shirts, fetish heels, gold trimmed bags, designer sunglasses, gold watches, rings and pearls and ground roasted coffee beans. The Vespas ever present. Smelling blood. Zipping by for the idiot girl who carries her bag road side. The homeless and the trash hosed away, back down to the station with the niggers and the whores and addicts. Up now. Climbing. The roads widen out and there's a haze in the near distance. Palm trees plotted along the central divide. They shake and whisper through faint breezes in the baked day. Huge rectangular advertising boards. Sun cream, breasts and bikini lines. The sea front. Salt and sand and sex and slime. A host of gay bars along the front. Pushed out to the very edge of the city. High class men of a certain fashion with strong jaws and designer stubbles. They sit outside looking like they're doing nothing but must be doing something. The weak lira smells strong. We climb now. The lira climbs with us. Up sea side inclines. Fantastic slanted houses and shops drunk on the hills. Transvestites and leather and sexual perversions in the safe damp of unfindable places. House whores. A Clandestine class. Studded motorbikes, piercings, industrial metal, open windows, reclusive artists working away in dark interiors. Paintings out in the street to dry. Streets getting so narrow now. Buildings trying to kiss as they lean forward. Mediterranean air. The roads wind up higher and become narrower. Little expensive cafés and bistros tucked away. A bar owner slops out a bucket of floor water for the sun to suck up. So hot. Humid. Condensation dripping from window sills. People in just shorts and sandals and sun glasses and cream. This is where they sigh all day and curse the world and heat. Where the evening arrives like a jewelled oasis. Up so high now and in front of me I can see the city, a steaming shit of ghettos and waste, of noise and pollution and history as as it eats itself up. Squalor, poverty, death, disease. It's all down there, rotting away in the streets and doorways. And Pedro exists. And he's running. His laugh is dreamy and it seems like he's in one of those tragic videos that I'll watch my entire life. And I watch him and he calls me, in Italian, soft contours. And this could be love and it should be love. I watch out from myself, drunk on the romance of a city of sadness and trash. And he's in the cool now, past the last bar on the highest point of the city. He's staring off over a wall and the air is rushing through his hair and I can smell the soap off his skin and something magic too. I climb the last step of hill and the shade and cool hits me like all of Italy is loving me at once. And for a moment the world goes quiet and the city behind me drifts silent and only the smell of the sun and of Pedro's image remains. I join him. And he says nothing, just stands there like a ships head looking out and full of breeze and something more than joy. Out in front of us is the Bay of Naples, an expanse of deep green sea with Vesuvius smoking away to the left. On the water is a single fishing boat and we can see the shadows of fish from here. And I say nothing to Pedro's silence. It's all feeling. And it's a great beautiful sad moment in our lives and our death talk of yesterday figures none. And we know, we both know, there is hope in this godforsaken world.... and in that moment, while the sea sat still and the city lay mute behind, we really and honestly had escaped the trappings of men.
At this point I shall not suppress a sigh. There are days when I am haunted by a feeling blacker than the blackest melancholy -- contempt of man. And so as to leave no doubt as to what I despise, whom I despise: it is the man of today, the man with whom I am fatefully contemporary.
Nietzsche – The Antichrist
The Last Days of Sober Living
The last year of sober living was a romantic time. I remember evenings spent sat beneath Westminster Bridge, the party boats just along down, moored in the high tide, the lights of the Southbank centre lit up across. I remember the last days of that infernal summer, where somehow dark obsessions came in on the floral evenings and magic and horror both lay in the distance. It's like it was another world, like the place a poet must see before being condemned to the page and the word. And when the summer was done that last sober autumn, crisp beneath my feet, walking so far and getting so lost and so far away from home. In the distance, rising up, the old industrial areas of Wandsworth, places I'd gone with my father and where we used to research Roman fares and Victorian bottle dumps and dig them up to hopefully find treasures. In the last evenings before the great turbulence of adulthood I read Oscar Wilde and James Joyce and Yeats – the Irish in me for the fight to come. Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the great Russian writers accompanied me as I travelled London, a kinda farewell tour before going underground. I visited museums and galleries and walked around Soho in the pouring rain, miserable and seeking out drug contacts. I wasn't needing a contact just then but was planning ahead. I wrote my first short stories through that winter with the windows out, no heating or money and having to warm my hands with a hair-dryer.
It was an insanely beautiful time, the memory a bruise blossoming in the sky now. But coming in on the back of the year was a great storm. I had been watching it build for years, darkening tones and swirling shapes in the sky which I didn't understand. I was too young to chase storms at that time. God, I didn't know which way it'd move or what course it'd likely take. So I sat and watched with a fatalistic horror and delight, kinda thrilled that the world was gonna come down on me, imaging the eroticism of my struggle and how I'd kick and fight and die. I watched the storm engulf the sky and come up over the bridge. The river darkened and weird ripples and eddies crashed about below. The cheers from the riverside bars now sounded like screams, like the whole world was screaming. There was talk of a meltdown. That was the night they set the river on fire and welcomed in a new thousand years. And all the while I was at home, laying in bed, shivering and crying and imagining gunning down the crowds. It was on that night there that the wound opened up and the poet crawled out: I was fundamentally at odds with my world.
In the dark of the night my brother said, “Shut up!” And I don't blame him at all. I chased the smack down the foil, but not even that made life bearable. It wasn't one thing. It was a lifetime of things. Twenty five years of tragedy. I watched the fireworks go off, exploding in the sky, Chinese Dragons and Roman Rockets and War and Blood and Bubblegum sparks... “HAPPY NEW YEAR!! Happy New Millenium!!!” They screamed.
The last drunks staggered home; the celebrations turned angry in them now. It's just the same; nothing changed; and there's work tomorrow. Outside one of the discontented beat up a dustbin, scattered its guts all over the road. I looked at the back of my brother's head and wondered if he was asleep, if he was still breathing, if he'd survive this night. I used to do that when we were young, creep about in the dark, feeling for his breath. I hope he breathes. I hope he sees the morning. He deserves it more than me. I thought back to when I was ten and Robbie Rudge's granddad said that his goal was to reach the year 2000 as he'd then be exactly one hundred years old. I thought of him, if he was breathing. Probably not. I hoped not. We were seeing in a new era of tragedy, but this next thousand years will not be a history of collective tragedy like the last, but of personal tragedies : it will be the single man and woman who will get it this time. The next holocaust will be indiscriminate.
My brother was asleep now. His chest didn't move and the night was now deadly still around us. I clicked my lighter and as quietly as I could chased the last beetle of smack around the foil, blowing heroin out into the new year. “Night Night, Dan,” I said... “looks like we've made it, Bro.... looks like we've really fucking made it.”
I don't think I'm going to last out the year. I can feel death and weakness in every move I take. The eclipse of bad health is nearly complete. My lungs rale and wheeze through the night. I am breathless on waking. My first half an hour is spent coughing up the settled phlegm in my chest and smoking cigars to replace it. I feel tired all the time. Not physically tired, but a tiredness that hangs in my face and has a physical weight. I've started getting piercing headaches and have a weird second heartbeat in the extreme left side of my chest. Every so often, twice a day, my entire chest will cramp from the middle as if some force is trying to pull my breast plate apart. My feet are brown from over 10,000 injections per foot and bad circulation. My ankles and shins swell up after each fix. If I pick a scab I scar. Stairs almost kill me. I can manage no more than a flight without getting out of breath. And it's been like that for a while, but now I'm starting to feel really ill with it: old ill, like I'm an old man. If I have to predict how I'll go I'll say my heart will give out. I do believe I'll die alone in this room in France and will not be found for at least a week.
I never wanted to die and I never wanted to hurt myself. I only ever wanted to tame the pain and be happy. I am happy. That's the contradiction. I was never really sad anyway. I guess when you're young and feel so strong and offended by death that you think you can do just about anything and get away with it. Nothing effects youth but time. Then one day, suddenly, the stitching's all undone. My only hope now is that I really am a hypochondriac.
Rebels should not take Drugs
Rebels should not take drugs! That is NOT taking up arms! That is NOT the good fight! That is getting in bed with the enemy. Rebels should not drink OR smoke! That is NOT rebelling: that's conforming! Rebels should not pay homage or get high on pussy or arsehole... that only leads to heartbreak, antidepressants and the psychiatrist's couch. Rebels should NOT write! Rebels should NOT march! Rebels should NOT lay down in front of bulldozers! Rebels should NOT sit in French cafés reading clandestine newspapers! That's what rebels are supposed to do!
People have always said I am a rebel. But I'm not a rebel. I'm the opposite of a rebel: All I've ever wanted was to be accepted and loved.
Rebels should NOT need love.
I Have no regrets, but...
I have no regrets, but...
That's not a rock n' roll thing, just how it is. I don't look at life for what has passed but only for what is here infront of me today. That's not to say I'd do everything over again. But it is to say that if I could alter history, yet without knowing what consequences that would have on my present, I wouldn't dare change a thing. I have no regrets, but...
That old man I saw on the metro: how fresh and wise and vibrant he looked. Sitting there with a head of brilliant silver hair, a soberness in his face like you'd maybe acquire from reading thick volumes of law books, his eyes pale and clear, alive and responsive, his skin not sagged or mottled, but thickened perfectly to sit on the collar of his fresh pressed shirt. But there was something else within him, a kind of contentedness with the world and his place in it, something very straight and honest, a kindness of living that only those in good health can have. Somehow he exuded life, as if all the comfort in the world was within him, completely respectful of his own mortality; like every minute was one to savour; like even the discomfort of a morning wash and shave was a pleasure; like waking to a new day was a gift and not a chore to get through until bedtime. I eyed his face again, could almost see the years of him slapping aftershave across his jowls, eager to get out into the world. And he sat there like that, his hands crossed over one another, the right gently clasping the left, taking warmth from his own existence, completely submissive to life, not waiting for the next blow. I unclenched my fists and let my own hands hang loose.
Between Saxe Gambetta and Bellecour, two quick stops, I glimpsed that man's entire life in my mind. Or maybe not his life, but the life I imagined I'd never have. And as I watched him more, I thought: I wouldn't mind being like that, being him... getting to that age. That wouldn't be too bad.
I have no regrets, but...
...in the dark window of the subway train I glimpsed at my reflection. And I thought:
God... what the hell have I done.
covering up the waste underneath, the needle pocked flesh, the brown feet, the huge abscess scars, the frightening capillary veins that pop and spread out like fungi, the raling lungs and wheezing chest, the heart palpitations, the shortness of breath, the emphysema, the bloated liver, the early onset of diabetes, the methadone fat, the filthy elbows, the dirty neck, the suicide scars... all covered by nice shirts and jumpers and trousers and socks and shoes.
When Tescos began selling books like Naomi Klein's 'No Logo' I knew we were fucked. A system so sure of itself that it even sold me it's own anti-propaganda, advising its customers to boycott almost every product it sells.
Capitalism is ME. I see it all too clearly now.
Home: A Love Letter to London #257
Behind the wall, in the shade, on the weeds, I know the black and orange caterpillars that are found there. Through the park, behind the swings, in the bushes, I know the human shit and trodden porno mags. Along the river, on the bank, with the tide sat out, I know the stench of the sunbaked mud. In Shepherds Bush, down St Elmo's Road, in first spring days, I know the Cherry Blossom snow. Around the church, on broken graves, under the elm, I know the damp of summer shade. Beneath the cars, where the eye can't see, I know by default lies what where:
The taste of bus windows; the underside of benches; the stuff stuffed down behind the green BT junction boxes; the muck of squashed vegetables after market; the hard school walls; the anti-climb fences and black grease; the smell of the public telephone receiver; the smoked brown wood of telephone poles; the acrid taste of motorway berries; the oil pools on the tarmac after the neighbours fixed his car; a sparkplug caught in the drain; the white enamelled bricks in latrines; the grubs that burrow in the window boxes; the insects that come in on summer nights; the mosquitoes in the back yard; the softness of the back seat in taxis; the taste of bus windows; the rain in shopping bags; the stains the beggars leave alongside the cash machine; the brown furry pollution that clings to the disused power station on Lotts road; the smell of train journeys out of town; egg and cress and mayo sandwiches; wet dogs; house cats; the smell of Superdrug bathsalts; brewery alleys; Adidas aftershave; four pints of beer and an ashtray; sausage and beans; fresh air dried laundry; corner shops full of the morning news; carbon betting slips; the afternoon soup kitchen of the Goldhawk Road Methodist church. That's my home. A million memories of all I am and everything I'll ever be. A deep sadness of a city that horrifies, saddens and brings me to beautiful tears... caught somewhere in years gone by and going by. That there is my home. She rises west from here and sprawls out like you wouldn't believe. She rises and settles like a mushroom cloud; the snake of the river slithering through her heart. London Town.
My city rips me in two. There is nothing I am more passionate about than home. It acts upon me as a melancholic gravitational pull. I cry for London Town. I did another Google Map walk through her streets last week. I broke down crying for the city I know so intimately, for my exile from her, for all that is me and is lost here. Cut off from London I am dying, but I am too gutless to return. I suppose I'd rather live in pain than face the music. But as my father and mother and brother and sisters die I will be taught one almighty lesson: I will be brought to my knees and dragged screaming through these foreign streets.
France is not my home. It's not even a home from home. Maybe on my death bed I'll be nostalgic about my days here, maybe she'll become a part of my history proper, but just now she weighs me down and makes me unutterably sad. I don't know this city or the people like the integral way I know the people of my own city. The little nuances that distinguish everyone – a slight accent, a fashion of accentuating words, the choice of words. I don't know this place and it doesn't know me. I have become a 37 year old blank. I didn't grow up here. I didn't clamber over her walls and graze my knees, camp in her undergrowth, go insect spotting in her forest. The streets are not the same curbs we sat on as kids, poking at the gutter life. The walls are not the same brick I drew and sprayed my name on, was gripped up upon. Even the barbed wire is a different cut and leaves different scars. I once wrote that 'the pavement tastes the same no matter where you are', but that was just poetry, a throwaway line that sounds true but isn't. The pavement DOESN'T taste the same, it's just the same things that knock you to it.
The Dark Shadow of Existence
I walked around followed by the dark shadow of existence. It fell in front of me when the light was behind, moped behind me when the light was in front, and submerged within me for the high noon sun, only to re-emerge, inch by inch as the light went down, out into the evening, until it stretched so far ahead of me it was all there was. And when the natural light of day was done, my dark shadow of existence multiplied and split, unsure of which debauched route to take through the city night. The lights from street lamps and sex shops and bars and arcades tugging at my soul.
Behind my dark shadow of existence I live in fear. I creep around like one of the mentally retarded, grinning at perverse acts and watching the elephant men and woman of the city balance their lopsided lives in dubious ways. I stand in the grime of shooting galleries, watching and imaging nightmare scenarios. I watch young boys in the station toilets perfecting the eyes of lust they'll give to old men as they suck their cocks and rifle through their pockets. I help put sex cards in the phone booths for dying smack and crack whores. I sit in the room, waiting for the crack man, fronting the money and loading the pipe till she's finished out back and can join me. Sometimes a client wants a proper moment and she'll rush out in vile filthy knickers, her death in the low light, holes in her groin, sucking down a rock of crack before scampering back to her trick. The curtains are drawn and it's not even 2pm.
My dark shadow of existence is there when I wake, staring forward at the naked, nicotine stained walls, the blood on the floor. It raises when I do, before the sun is even up.
Just a few words to let let you know I'm back from the wilderness and will be posting here within the next few days.As I'd been writing constantly during the past 4 years I thought/felt it was time to take a break from that nonsense and have a proper rest from it all where words and sentences and themes were not my first waking thoughts. As many of you know the actual process of writing for me is just a nightmare. I've never enjoyed the physical act of getting these words down, and really only do it from a desperation to say the things my mouth has never been able to. Anyway, there you have it: I'm in from out the cold.
The upcoming post will almost certainly be a set of four or five little texts, each one concerning thoughts and sadnesses which have been plaguing me since the end of last year. One of the pieces will pick up on the last post here, though rather than addressing what happens POST-junk it will focus on the PRE-junk dawn... my last year of sober living.
Until then... Watch this Space... Shane; x